Explainer: Why is Elon Musk telling people to use the Signal app?

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Elon Musk made headlines for the second time in one week when his Tweet urging people to “use Signal” sent an unrelated company’s stock price through the roof.

The tech billionaire is one of the world’s most-followed Twitter users, and overtook Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest person, as reported on Thursday.

But why was he pointing his Twitter fan base towards the encrypted messaging app, and why did it cause such a stir?

What is Signal?

Signal is a messaging app that prides itself on security and privacy. The non-profit software company, Open Whisper Systems developed the software in 2013, for use in encrypted text messaging, and voice and video calls.

Why is Elon Musk telling people to use it?

Musk’s tweet did not give any clues about why he thought people should use the app.

However, it is generally understood that his advice came in response to WhatsApp’s new terms of service published on January 4.

The messenger, which uses Signal software, has said that users will have to consent to allowing the app to share their data with its parent company Facebook if they wish to continue using it.

Signal said on Twitter that the app is seeing a record number of new users join in response to Facebook’s new terms.

How is it different from other messaging apps?

The app uses end-to-end encryption, which in theory means that the only people who are able to read messages are the sender and receiver. Messages pass from the sender to a third party – the app – before reaching the recipient. In a system that uses end-to-end encryption, even the makers of the app itself cannot read the messages stored on their system.

Several apps use Signal software, including Whatsapp, Facebook, and Skype. However, unlike these services, Signal is fully open-source – meaning that anyone can read the code that it uses to protect users’ privacy and make sure that messages are not being accessed in transit.

Why is Elon’s tweet significant?

With 41.9 million followers, Musk has the 34th most popular Twitter profile in the world. His activity on the platform has been known to move markets, including when he knocked $14 billion off the value of his own company, Tesla, by tweeting “Tesla stock price too high imo,” as reported by the BBC.

In December, the value of Bitcoin rival Dogecoin spiked by 35 percent after Musk changed his Twitter bio to read “Former CEO of Dogecoin” and tweeted: “One word: Doge.”

He has a dedicated fan base of technology enthusiasts, and his tweet ushering people towards Signal saw the app overwhelmed by the number of new users, forcing delays.

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